A Plethora of Riches

So, let me start by noting that this kind of post is not typical.  People don’t generally write these kind of posts. And, frankly, there are good reasons for that. And yet, here I am writing it.  I’ll explain why shortly.

But let’s start with the context.  I’ve been working as the Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation at the University of Mary Washington since April of 2014.  It’s a great job where I get to be a faculty member (a Professor of History and American Studies) half time and the rest of the time oversee our Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation, our Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, our recently created (but thoroughly awesome) Digital Knowledge Center, and one of the coolest student-centered buildings in academia, the Information & Technology Convergence Center (now named after our current president, the Hurley Convergence Center). Although we’ve seen turnover this past year in DTLT (no year when you lose Tim Owens, Ryan Brazell, Andy Rush, Jim Groom, and Lisa Ames can be all good), we’ve also done some amazing hiring, bringing in Jess Reingold, Jesse Stommel, and Lee Skallerup Bessette, and soon Nigel Haarstad, with another superb new colleague soon to be announced.  They are creative, terrific, brilliant people who have joined Martha Burtis, Mary Kayler, Leah Tams, Amanda Rutstein, Cartland Berge, Roberta Gentry, and Zach Whalen in the Teaching, Technology, and Innovation Unit.

So, despite these changes (in fact, partly because of them), I wasn’t looking for a new job.  And yet, one came looking for me.  A search firm contacted me late last fall about a new position at a Research 1 University at the Vice Provost level.  I’m a big fan of this school, having worked for many years with great people there.  The job is a new position that brings together a number of elements that exist at a university that is clearly on the move, clearly on its way upward, clearly at the forefront of the struggle over the soul of higher education.  And after an application and an initial interview with the search committee, I was a finalist for the position with an on-campus interview.  Now, I know that I’m operating from a place of remarkable privilege, a privilege that so many other academics have not and do not have.  I have a full-time position and I love my job, one that has tenure and a good salary and terrific colleagues, and I’m fortunate enough to have developed a reputation within the discipline that has allowed me to travel around the country giving workshops on digital history, digital humanities, and digitally enabled pedagogy, as well as editing a section of a leading journal for one major organization on digital history projects, and leading a digital history working group for another major professional organization.  Most importantly, I applied for this job knowing that I loved the position that I’m currently in with no risk of losing that position if it didn’t work out.

Yesterday, about a month after my on-campus interview, I found out that I am no longer being considered for the position, that they have offered the job to someone else.

Now we get to the point about why posts like this are unusual.  Typically people don’t talk about these positions when they don’t get them, in part because they don’t want people at their current job to know that they were willing to consider leaving, in part because they are worried that they might be embarrassed by not getting the job, in part because they are worried about what the people at the job they applied for will think about them, and in part because they worry about how people at potential future jobs might view someone who talks about the often-closed search process.  These are very good reasons not to talk about jobs for which you have applied but not been selected.

So, why am I doing so?  I spend a great deal of time telling my students that they should create a digital identity that reveals who they are, that makes it clear what they want to do and be, that claims boldly what they believe in and what they want to do, and that acknowledges (even celebrates) failures or incomplete paths as part of the learning and development process.  I was unsuccessful in applying for this job; now what have I learned from it?

You know what I’ve learned? That I’m glad. [Now, I know that it’ll be easy for people who don’t know me to dismiss this as simply me settling, or me rationalizing not getting a job.  To them, I’ll just say, “That’s a reasonable point of view given the evidence you have, and you’re wrong.”]  I’m really happy I didn’t get this job, and not because I have anything against the school to which I applied, but because I’m convinced that I already have an important contribution to make, that I have an amazing team to work with, that I have colleagues who value what matters in higher education right now where I am right now.  [Let’s be clear: there was much to attract me to the school I applied to, and not just the increased money and significant promotion.  It was a chance to work on a different stage, as part of a school that is often mentioned in conversations about higher education. And there were great, terrific colleagues there to work with as well.]  But in the end, as I thought about the two positions in the weeks after the on-campus interview, I increasingly realized that UMW was the place where I wanted to be, a place where I was able to make a bigger difference, a place where my students continue to inspire me every day, a place where my team, my colleagues, and even my incoming president shared the values that I believe in, a place that keeps the focus on students, that believes that a liberal arts education is the best foundation for a changing world, that integrates digital tools into that liberal arts education better than almost any school in the nation (and has earned a national reputation and big grants for doing so), that balances teaching and learning and research and service and community in ways that represent one incredibly valuable path for higher education over the next few decades.

So, today, I’m incredibly glad to be at the University of Mary Washington with my colleagues and my friends and my students.

Changes

tl;dr version: Jeff got a new job.

As of May, I will have been chair of the Department of History and American Studies for six years.  In that time, I’ve published a monograph, been promoted to full professor, published several articles/essays, presented at over 40 conferences and workshops, and served on countless committees and review boards on and off campus.

But I am particularly proud of my department over the same time: over 1/3 of my colleagues have been awarded tenure, they have published 5 books (and counting), 35+ scholarly articles & book chapters, & 30 reviews/short essays served on 45 professional organization committees, including as book series editors/members of editorial boards, as conference program or book prize reviewers, & as officers (including two presidents) of professional organizations, they have presented at hundreds of conferences, and served as at least as many committee years. We have established a program that has a two-semester methods class and integrates concepts of digital identity and digital fluency more deeply than any other history and American Studies program I have seen.  We have created 45+ new courses in that time and we contribute to 12 majors and minors, including new programs in Women’s & Gender Studies, Museum Studies, Urban Studies, Social Justice and Digital Studies.  I don’t pretend that my tenure as chair resulted in this amazing productivity of these teacher-scholars, but I do know that I’ve worked as chair to help support and serve them in that mission and I’m proud to call them colleagues.

I am also incredibly proud of our students.  We have an amazing set of History and American Studies students with a track record of creating rich digital projects, a decades-long streak of student winners of the campus writing contest, Phi Beta Kappa membership, earning departmental honors, publishing senior theses, and of students going on to graduate school (70% do within 5-10 years) and finding terrific professional positions.  Perhaps more importantly, they are thoughtful, smart, engaged people, many of whom are already making contributions to their chosen fields.

All of this is to say that I’m in an awesome department, one that I’ve been honored to serve as the chair of for the last six years.  But it’s also time to move on, if not from the department, then from my chairing of it.  If you read my blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then you know that I’ve been particularly passionate about the intersection of teaching and technology for over a decade.  I’ve been offered an opportunity to follow that passion and at the school that I continue to cherish.

As of May, I will step down as department chair and begin my new job as UMW’s Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation.  This new position is a half-time teaching position, so I will still get to work with students in my classes each semester.  But the rest of my time will be focused on the ways that technology, teaching, and research intersect and lead to innovation at UMW and beyond.  Specifically, I will be working with the directors of UMW’s terrific Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (Mary Kayler) and the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (Jim Groom).  [A privilege since both have been making me and many other UMW faculty look cutting-edge for years.]  I’ll also be collaborating with IT, Speaking Center, Writing Center, Library, Events, and Student Affairs to get the new Information Technology Convergence Center up and running.

I’ll also have the following responsibilities*:

  • Lead strategic planning to ensure excellence and impact of innovative use of technology to forward the teaching and learning mission of the University;
  • Partner with faculty and staff to develop and prioritize initiatives;
  • Oversee continuing development of UMW’s distance learning program, with a special charge to help address critical enrollment needs;
  • Serve on the President’s Technology Advisory Committee;
  • Seek out grant and development opportunities for UMW and its partners in these areas.

I am incredibly excited to take on this new position and to be able to build on the excellent work that Mary Washington’s faculty, students, and staff have already done in this area.  Look for more here in the weeks and months to come about the process, potential, and progress in this new position for me.

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*In some ways, I’ll also be expected to talk even more about the work that is happening at UMW and elsewhere in the field of the digital liberal arts and digitally enhanced pedagogy.  So, I plan on taking up my writing for ProfHacker again (that’s a public commitment Jason and George….) and look for more posts here as well.  I also see my service on the new THATCamp Council as fitting in with my new expanded role here at UMW.